I firmly believe that meat, poultry and fish have a place in a healthy whole food diet. Humans evolved as omnivores, meaning we can eat and get nutrition from almost anything that is not poisonous. Our teeth are a combination of plant-grinding molars, grabbing/tearing canines and cutting/shearing incisors. One of our closest relatives among the apes, the chimpanzee, actively hunts and eats meat occasionally. Being an omnivore, more than any other trait, is what has allowed humans to live successfully in every climatic zone on the planet. Humans can live well on whatever food is available in the area they happen to find themselves.
Many people today argue that it is wrong to eat meat and that optimum health can be achieved and maintained with a vegetarian or vegan diet.
They are right about the diet part of the argument. It is possible, but far from easy, to maintain health without eating meat or meat by-products. There are no indigenous peoples or societies that I am aware of that live on a fully vegan diet. All of them include at least some animal by-products: honey, dairy(milk, ghee, cheese, yogurt, kefir), eggs, insects(grubs, grasshoppers, worms, ants, etc…), blood and fish roe to name just a few. This is because maintaining good health for a lifetime on a vegan whole food diet is very difficult and almost requires taking supplements of at least a few vitamins and minerals. And we evolved on a world that contained only whole foods and no supplements. This is why a vegan diet seems unnatural to me.
They are also right about the meat part of the argument that pertains to modern industrialized meat production. Raising beef and dairy cattle in confined spaces, feeding them only an unnatural diet of grains and keeping them “healthy” by dosing them with antibiotics when they repeatedly get sick is cruel and unethical. Cattle evolved to graze grass and leafy plants and to move around when needing fresh food sources. Raising pigs and poultry the same way is just as wrong and unkind. And the meat, dairy and eggs from industrial animals is not nearly as nutritious as from animals fed a natural diet and allowed to move freely. This type of industrialized meat production is not wrong just for the animals and for people, it is also very wrong for the environment, destroying habitat and wasting resources.
Remember that there are other indigenous peoples that have lived full and healthy lives for thousands of generations eating a diet composed almost entirely of animal protein. Think about the Inuit and other Arctic peoples – nearly their entire diet consists of meat and fat from marine mammals, fish, shellfish and some seaweed. Sometimes they get lucky and score a few bird eggs or salmon roe but hardly any edible vegetables or leafy greens grow within their range. Think about the African tribes that live almost entirely on cattle – drinking milk and blood daily for protein and calories and beef only when a cow is about to die of old age. The sustainable supply of dairy and blood is simply too valuable to kill the animals for food. Very little edible vegetation grows within their very hot and dry range. Yet both of these groups of humans are healthy, have low rates of cancer and do not suffer from the modern chronic diseases(cardiovascular disease and diabetes).
I feel that the best and easiest way to maintain optimum health is a combination of the two extremes detailed above. The foundation of a healthy diet should be whole plant foods: vegetables, tubers and roots, fruits, leafy greens, nuts, whole grains and beans eaten just the way they are provided by nature. Add enough animal protein to this plant base to supply the body’s rebuilding and repair needs, which is probably not as much as most folks think. The plants supply the bulk of needed vitamins, minerals, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory phytonutrients and other necessary nutrients. The animal protein fills in the nutritional gaps.
The key to this approach is eating only meat, poultry and fish that has eaten a natural diet and only enough of it to meet our health needs. And it has been proven that raising animals naturally is not only sustainable but actually improves the land and the overall environment. Does anyone really think that bison were destroying the environment of North America before the arrival of Europeans? Did we really save the habitat of the great plains by killing off the buffalo? Is the land in better condition now that it is covered with huge mono-cropped factory farms and feedlots? I think it is the modern industrial approach to agriculture and feeding the world that is not sustainable or healthy for humans.
I am not trying to convince anyone to eat meat or even to eat more meat. That is a personal choice that we all make every day at every meal. For achieving and maintaining optimum health I do feel a diet that contains at least dairy and eggs and a little fish now and then is much more manageable than a fully vegan diet. I do feel that eating animal protein is natural for humans, that it is part of our evolution. And I would much rather eat a fully natural whole food diet including meat than have to take man-made vitamin supplements to prevent deficiency diseases and poor health.